The History of Backpacking Part I - Introduction

Published: 07/31/2013

When/where was it first decided that man would venture into the unknown? One would assume that, being hunter gatherers for a long time,  it was in our nature from a very early stage in our development: to wander beyond the boundaries of familiar lands in search of food and shelter; to float upon the waters further from shore to find fish in abundance and feed a clan.  And what about our instinctive need as a species to diversify our gene pool by spreading out to find new people to procreate with.  This is certainly another factor which contributed to our wanderings.  Homo sapiens (modern day humans) have been on this earth for about 130,000 years.

Through history we have encountered adventurers by the bucket load.  Setting out on ships and wagons to stake their claim on undiscovered territory around the globe, only to find hundreds of years later with the advance in archaeology that many of these lands were discovered thousands of years earlier by the Romans and the Greeks.

As time has passed walkabouts have become more and more recreational, leading us into an era of hiking.  In 1968 America embraced hiking by creating the National Scenic Trail Act, making large tracts of land available to the public for recreational use which in turn helped to set up a system of hiking trails that run throughout the country.  The backpack was invented in 1920 by Lloyd F Nelson, starting out as a rigid pack board fashioned to ease the carrying of heavy loads over long hauls. Initially, long haul bags were a crude sack with straps.  The addition of the board distributed the weight more evenly and created a division between the contents of the bag and the carrier's back.  Following this creation, Greg Lowe designed the internal frame in 1967 but this is not the end of the evolution of the backpack.  Today manufacturers are still perfecting the design and function of backpacks making them lighter and more streamlined.

Longer hikes require more equipment. Tents, sleeping bags, cooking accessories...hence the invention if the backpack, a bag large enough to carry all your requirements though the wilderness that can be easily hitched upon one's back.

When delving into the history of backpacking it is important to make a note of the impact the National Scenic Trail Act had on hiking and exploring the outdoors aswell as short walks in the wilderness.  President Lyndon Johnson proposed the act in 1965 and this act encouraged people to rediscover the outdoors and spend more time appreciating the wonders in nature surrounding them.  The act made trails far more accessible and by setting up these trails, enthusiasts were invited to explore the road less taken.  With everything you need in a bag on your back, there are no limits to where you can adventure.

It is unclear at which point in history backpacking splintered off from hiking but there is certainly more ahead.  With society growing more eco-conscious, backpacking is only going to grow.

Posted in: General Travel
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